Two weeks ago, it was announced that Disney will acquire Lucasfilm Ltd. from George Lucas for $4.05 billion. I learned about the news when I heard my ABC7 iPhone app ping the headline. My immediate reaction was excitement, and then I went straight to the internet to learn what the exact details of the purchase was. I quickly discovered the two videos below featuring the two men at the core of the announcement. They pretty much said in the videos all I wanted to know about what led to this amazing announcement.
Then, I wondered about those new movies they mentioned. As of this time, all we know for sure is:
• It takes place after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.
• The story treatments were written by George Lucas, and assumedly not beholden to an adaptation of the popular Heir to the Empire trilogy of books written by Timothy Zahn, the first stories licensed by Lucasfilm relating events taking place after Jedi.
• Michael Arndi is currently writing the screenplay based on his "40 to 50 page treatment" of George’s ideas.
• Episode VII will be released in 2015.
That’s it. No casting has yet been done – only rumors and fan dreams circulating. No director has been hired, but George and Kathleen are looking as the world makes bets on who will take the chair. But I will say there’s a better than 50/50 chance that the new movie will open on Memorial Day, same as the last six episodes. It’s a tradition of George’s. But even that is not a sure bet.
Also, I will be sad that Drew Struzan will not be providing his signature art style to Episode VII’s movie poster. Despite being enticed to produce some new work for a series of limited edition prints, he’s retired now.
I’m also a little antsy about a guy named Williams. When a rough cut of the Episode VII is ready for a composer to screen it (assuming Disney is able to stick to their schedule) and begin work on the soundtrack, John Williams will be 82. And we don't yet know who will be the film's director who will hire a composer to score the film. But obviously, a Star Wars film has never been complete without music composed by John Williams. So I hope Williams will continue to produce the music for that galaxy far, far away.
When the very first Star Wars movie debuted, I was thirteen. I was a Trekkie by then, and that love for Trek was greater than for this new Star Wars movie. But as its two sequels came out over the six years that followed, I couldn't escape the magic of Star Wars. And I became as rabid about the Skywalker saga as I was with the stalwart crew of the starship Enterprise.
Fast forward twenty years, and the digitally remastered "Special Editions" arrived. The adventures of Luke Skywalker, now freshly scrubbed, polished and newly detailed, returned to a world of digitally projected theatre screens. They would arrive in theatres in early 1997, but it was several months before that that I actually found myself diving back into the world of the Jedi and the Sith. That was the time I was a product designer working in the Strategic Alliance division of a company called Applause, and Taco Bell called them up to see if we were interested in pitching a line of kid's meal toys to tie-in with the Star Wars re-release.
Like in every toy company, there were some hardcore Star Wars fans among us toy designers, and it became our mission to make sure we beat out the competition and win this promotion! Designers brainstormed ideas and over the course of a few weeks, passionately debated with each other to defend our toy concepts, recalling scenes from the first trilogy as reasons why they should stay in the mix. Then, money came into the picture to kill ideas outright due to cost. Finally, concepts were narrowed down and presentation boards were rendered up - which was done by hand back then, using pen and ink, colored pencils and Prismacolor markers - for the sales people to make our pitch.
The pitch took place in June of 1996. Taco Bell chose some of our concepts as well as some from our main competitor Strottman for focus testing with kids. By July, the results were in and Taco Bell had decided. It would be Applause that would be making Star Wars kid's meal toys!
After high-fiving each other and patting ourselves on our backs, we still had a lot of pressure on us. The toys needed to start shipping from our overseas factories by November to give Taco Bell time to receive and distribute the toys to all of their restaurants nationwide. We had four months, not the typical six or seven, to not only get the regular designing and sculpting of toy housings done for production, but we also had to allow time for Lucasfilm's licensing department to review and approve things at every step of the way. Four months for all this to happen was tight.
It was decided that as much of the sculpting as possible should to done in Hong Kong where the factories can have immediate input into design the pieces for quicker manufacturing. And because this was such a high-profile license, it was felt that someone from our office should fly over there to oversee the fast-tracked sculpting to make sure they were as on-model (i.e., closely matched character or vehicle likeness) as possible in the hopes that they could get approved by Lucas Licensing that much quicker and production can begin that much sooner. They needed someone very familiar with the ships and characters of Star Wars. A Star Wars fan.
Normally, my boss would’ve gone. But his wife was due to have their first child at that very time, so he didn't want to travel half a world away from his family. Plus, he wasn’t as big a Star Wars fan as me!
So from July through the end of that year, I handled the Creative Manager duties on Star Wars for Taco Bell. I traveled to Hong Kong that week after we were granted the promotion. After our first pass at sculpts were done, I had to travel some more. This time to a place up in Northern California called Skywalker Ranch. There is where Lucas Licensing's offices were located. I visited there several times, usually with another manager and a sculptor or two, to have them review and approve our sculpts, including making revisions right on those sculpts on the spot to get them approved before we left. Then, then more trips to Skywalker Ranch followed to get approvals on our tooling patterns produced in China, then again on new drawings needed for revised bases and characters poses requested by Lucas Licensing, and then more on new sculpts and tooling patterns, before finally getting okays on our paint masters and first production shots, allowing us to finally get to pull the trigger on full production of millions of Star Wars toys.
All I remember of that time is that I was living, eating and sleeping Star Wars everyday, all to make sure we got everything reviewed, approved, produced on budget and shipped on time so kids and fans across the country would be happy to see our toys at Taco Bell, with the promotion set to kick off on January 26, 1997. And we did it! And it was awesome and exciting and the folks at Lucasfilm and Taco Bell were thrilled with them and it was one of the proudest geek moments the designers at Applause ever had!
So while we wait to see what’s in store for Disney's Star Wars: Episode VII, I thought it'd be a good time to share my personal Star Wars adventure with you. Looking back and going through my stuff and researching online proved to be fun for me, and I hope you enjoyed what I've shared here too.
Below are some of the sketches and drawings I did while working on this project, the only project I and my fellow Applause designers ever had the good fortune of having twenty years time to research a project so thoroughly. Glad it paid off. In fact, it led to the chance to work up more Star Wars toy designs for a film announced after this promotion to come just two years later: Star Wars: Episode I. But like that film, the experience meeting expectations were entirely different from what had happened working on the first trilogy. And perhaps it's a tale I'll share with you another time.
Until then, may the Force be with you.
Thanks for the feedback and the "likes" for those of you who enjoyed last week's first installment of my articles about Blu-rays. I really enjoyed putting it together, and there'll be lots more entries like that that I think you're find helpful and interesting.
This week I didn't find any new retailer exclusives to point out. But there are a couple titles debuting on Blu-ray this coming Tuesday October 16 that some of my friends might like to know about., in particular those who are of the Disney persuasion and those who are classic Looney Tunes enthusiasts.
The Disney Blu-ray release is Pete's Dragon. I've yet to see this, and I can already hear my friends yelling at me as they read this that I "...must watch it NOW!" It's a combo pack meaning it includes both a Blu-ray Disc and a DVD, the idea being that for those who haven't yet added a Blu-ray player to their homes can conveniently begin building their Blu-ray Disc library in advance of ultimately getting one yet still watch the DVD on their current equipment.
This also brings up an interesting fact about certain combo pack titles. Sometimes, studios will release it in both the shorter Blu-ray-sized packaging and the taller DVD-sized packaging. That's the case Disney chose here with Pete's Dragon, releasing it DVD-size format as well. This lets those same folks just entering the world of Blu-ray but who really, really want to have their DVD cases on the shelf be all the same height have their wish!
The new Looney Tunes release is the second three-disc collection of Warner Bros.' classic cartoon shorts (It has the red box cover design shown above). Volume One (with silver and blue package design) was released last November in two editions, a standard three-disc set (center image above) and a "Limited and Numbered Edition" in a box containing bonus swag goodies (beauty shot above right).
Beyond that, I wondered what other Blu news I could talk about today. Then an idea finally came to me last week as I was reading through discussion threads at Blu-ray.com's forum boards. Someone had posted information about a recent Blu-ray release that influenced my decision to buy it, even tho' I'd already known about the release months ago and decided to pass on it. The new info, especially in the way it was shared, made me second-guess my original decision. It was also then that I realized that that experience would be a great chance to show you a tool that Blu-ray enthusiasts use today, something I'm sure many of you didn't know about. It involves making videos and posting them on YouTube.
Unboxing videos are made by online news sites and Blu-ray enthusiasts all over the world. What they do is shoot video while opening a fresh, new Blu-ray Disc release that they've just received. Sometimes goofy, always geeky, and often done by amateurs aspiring to make a reputation for themselves among niche YT viewers, they're meant to not only share the enthusiasm they have for their latest and greatest addition but also provide some insight to fellow fans about new and distinctive releases who might be wondering how a particular title is packaged or what exactly is included inside. The video below is a brief (which is rare that it's so brief!) example of a typical unboxing.
Pretty basic, but because this was a non-standard type of packaging, fairly informative too. If you were on the fence about what you were getting when you looked at the non-standard, bulky, oversized Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray set, and the beauty shot of it shown at left didn't really answer all your questions about it, this video becomes very helpful.
Now, what about a different type of Blu-ray release. Say, one of those big huge box sets, like the ones Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has done for Gone with the Wind or 20th Century Fox for The Sound of Music? You can find beauty shots of their contents also, but like in above video wouldn't it be more helpful if someone opened it up for you to show you how it looks inside and see them holding all of the swag items in their hands? That post I mentioned earlier featured an unboxing video of a box set and after watching it, I immediately became more enamored of it.
And what was that set? It was Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures Blu-ray Collection. But not the standard release that can be purchased anywhere. It was an exclusive box set, a retailer exclusive actually, available only from Amazon UK.
That's the Amazon on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in the United Kingdom, in an entirely different continent. An international retailer exclusive!
The ABCs of Blu
Now here's something about buying Blu-rays and DVDs from another country. They don't automatically play in PS3s and other Blu-ray players made for the good ol' U S of A. The international home video industry follows region coding standards, a practice started years ago with DVDs and continued with the introduction of Blu-ray Discs. It has to do partly with licensing rights. Rights for different regions of the world may not necessarily be owned by the same distributor. And to keep folks honest, video players around the world are manufactured differently enough to allow Blu-rays and DVDs for one region to play only in players built for, say, Region A but not for players built for Region B or Region C. In fact, for Blu-ray Discs, there are only three region codes and they are Regions A, B, and C. For you regular international travelers, it's just like you having to buy a completely new thingamabob because the plug for your original thingamabob that you can use here in the US won't work in those European electrical outlets. They simply don't play nice with each other at all.
So, back to the Indiana Jones set and Amazon UK. I could buy the standard collection here in the US and have no doubt whatsoever that I can play the discs and watch them just fine. But theirs is a limited edition version with really cool swag included, not available from any other retailer except Amazon UK. Here is that unboxing video I watched. And it's pretty tempting to own...if only I knew it would play in my PS3.
Cool, huh? Especially that diary!
To the left is the beauty shot I found earlier this year of the set. I knew about the set's existence early enough. But my inclination at that time to not get it was swayed not just by the possible region code conflict, but also from someone's comment on the forum boards that for the extra money, we're just getting a lot of extra paper. Made sense. And that helped convince me at the time to keep my money in my credit card.
Then, last week I watched the above video and I was screwed.
Or maybe not! Perhaps it being released in the UK, it might strictly be a Region B disc, and not play on US's Region A players, ending further buying consideration permanently. I did some checking, and at first Blu-ray.com's listing for it identified it as "Region B (untested for A,C)". "Untested" refers to the fact that there are some Blu-ray titles that are manufactured to play in all regions; they're Region Free. So now, there was a possibility that the version from the UK might play in my PS3.
Now there are Blu-ray players that actually play BDs from all regions. They play Region A discs, Region B and Region C. My PS3 is not one of them. But there was bound to be someone on Blu-ray.com's forum boards who not only has an all regions Blu-ray player but would go ahead and test it for the rest of us wanting to know and share their results. (One of the reasons why I love visiting the forum boards!) In fact, I added a post myself to ask someone to do that. I went to sleep, and the next morning, I saw the following posted by "srinivas1015" as a direct reply to mine.
I just tested my UK set. It's Region Free. I set my PowerDVD software to region A and it played the disc perfectly. I also tested it in my Region C Playstation 3 and there was no problem.
Great googly moogly! I went to Amazon UK's listing for it and coincidentally their info was updated now stating it as ""Region Free" there too.
I did some quick exchange rate conversions online and to make matter worse - or I guess, better - it turned out that even with international shipping, the Amazon UK set was about the same price as buying the US version here - usually priced around $79.99 - with sales tax added.
So the fact is I'm eighty bucks poorer now. The set is already on its way via DHL and due to arrive to me before the end of the month. But I guess for all the digging around I did related to this holy grail-like quest to find my answers about a famous archeologist's records, I tell myself it was meant to be. But along the way, I hope you enjoyed this little introduction to unboxing videos and region codes. And if you feel like exploring on your own, there are many more unboxing videos to be found on YouTube.
As a postscript, I end this article with the only other Amazon UK exclusive collector's set in my collection. I bought it when it was released in 2010. That time, it was the metal OUTATIME license plate that I couldn't live without. And was I glad it was Region Free too!
Until next time...
All About Me
A fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, comic books, Blu-rays, Disney, soundtracks, taking pictures, theatre and...Barry Manilow!